Cleveland Clinic Performs Its First In Utero Surgery

CLEVELAND, Ohio – The Cleveland Clinic has successfully performed its first in utero fetal surgery, repairing a spina bifida birth defect in a 23-week-old fetus. 

The baby girl was delivered via caesarean section near full-term June 3. Both mother an daughter are doing well, the Cleveland Clinic reports.

“By successfully repairing the defect before birth, we’re allowing this child to have the best possible outcome and significantly improve her quality of life,” said Dr. Darrell Cass, the clinic’s director of fetal surgery, in a statement. “There are different measures of quality in determining success for fetal repairs and in this particular case, all metrics for maximum quality were achieved.

Joining Cass in the operating room were director of the clinic’s special delivery unit Dr. Amanda Kalan, pediatric neurosurgeons Drs. Violette Recinos and Kaine Onwuzulike, fetal cardiologist Dr. Francine Erenberg and pediatric anesthesiologists Drs. McCallum Hoyt and Tara Hata.

Spina bifida is caused when the neural tube in the spinal cord doesn’t fully close, preventing the backbone from forming properly and in some cases causing brain damage. According to the Centers for Disease control, about 1,650 babies are born with the defect each year in the United States.

“Although the surgery was a success, spina bifida is never cured,” said Cass said. “Moving forward, the baby will require ongoing supportive care provided by a multidisciplinary team of caregivers in our Spina Bifida Clinic, which will involve neurology, urology, orthopedics, developmental pediatrics and neurosurgery, among other specialists.”

In some cases of spina bifida, the brain may herniate down the spinal column, causing brain damage. Typically, infants with the defect are given shunts to decompress built-up cerebrospinal fluid. With the procedure at the Cleveland Clinic, Cass said, the process was reversed and the appearance of the baby’s brain appears normal.

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